Biking in the Basin | SierraSun.com

Biking in the Basin

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunSasha and Vitaly Smith of Auburn ride the bike path near Tahoe City on Wednesday. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency conducted bike trail user surveys earlier this month.
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Local agencies and bike groups agree that Lake Tahoe bicycle trails are indeed being utilized, but basin-wide organizations are looking to discover how often, by whom and for what purpose.

Ten years after first surveying the basin’s bike pathways, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency in early July again administered user surveys at nine locations around the lake to glean information about ridership.

“The purpose of the survey is we want to start doing this every couple years,” said Karen Fink, the bistate agency’s transportation planner. “We’re really looking for how people are using the trail: Recreation, commuting, how far they’re going on the trail, suggestions for improvements, if it’s going to get them out of the car.”

With the help of local groups including the Tahoe City Public Utility District, Lake Tahoe Bicycle Coalition and California Tahoe Conservancy, the planning agency stationed personnel at nine spots, interviewing from 50 to 100 people each.

The 23-question survey asked both multiple-choice and open-ended questions related to mode of transportation, mileage, purpose of trip, frequency of bike trail use, residency or visitor information, and basic demographics. The planning agency chose to survey users on July 5 because responses would represent both visitor and resident traffic.

On the North Shore, volunteers worked near the 64-acre tract in Tahoe City, the Lakeshore Trail at Incline Beach, near Kaspian on the West Shore and on the bike path to the North Tahoe Regional Park in Tahoe Vista.

Surveyors also kept track of how many trail users passed by per hour, a figure that ranged between 50 and 220 bicyclists and pedestrians. In a preliminary evaluation, those numbers appear very similar to surveys from 10 years ago, Fink said.

But overall, bike trail usage is on the rise, said Deputy Director Ray Lacey of the California Tahoe Conservancy.

“More people are getting out of their cars and using the trails. About half of those people are using the trails for something they would usually use their car,” Lacey said. “We see ridership numbers increasing dramatically and we’re thrilled.”

The conservancy is just one organization committed to coaxing people out of their cars and onto their feet or bicycles in an effort to reduce traffic and create an incentive to build a continuous trail system around Lake Tahoe.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is compiling hundreds of bike trail user surveys, and its evaluation will be available within approximately three weeks, Fink said.

The report will compare user surveys from this month to those completed in 1997.

“It’s good to get out there and see what’s really happening on the trails,” Fink said.

The planning agency is responsible for coordinating the basin-wide effort to improve the bike network, and is the force behind the Lake Tahoe Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

“The ultimate goal is to get more people riding their bikes and out of their cars,” Fink said. “It reduces traffic, it saves on parking needs and it also reduces emissions from automobiles. Also, Lake Tahoe is a nicer place to be if people are out riding their bikes instead of driving around.”

Fink said one of the ultimate goals is to complete a continuous bicycle route encircling Lake Tahoe. And soon, the North Tahoe Public Utility District will have trails within their jurisdiction.

“Late this fall we should start with some public scoping meetings,” said utility district General Manager Steve Rogers. “Our board feels it’s a very good thing for our community. One, it’s a safety issue. And it supports tourism ” we know bike trails bring activity. It’s also a great shoulder season component.”

The proposed Class One North Shore trail, an off-street paved path, will be a minimum of 10-feet wide and will also be designed as an emergency access route.

It will run eight to nine miles between the regional park in Tahoe Vista and Dollar Point, connecting to the Tahoe City Public Utility District’s Lakeside Bike Trail.

The North Tahoe district initially received just under $1 million from the California Tahoe Conservancy in grant funding for the environmental planning stages. The district anticipates the conservancy will also serve as the principal funding source for construction of the paths.

“The Conservancy remains committed to the completion of bike trails throughout the basin,” Lacey said. “The trail network ” and network is the key word ” is both a recreational amenity and an alternative transportation system.”

Cost estimates range from $1.5 million to $2 million per mile of trail, Rogers said.

“I think it can be a regional win-win,” said Rogers. “There’s a great discussion about trying to link a nice triangle between Truckee, Kings Beach, Tahoe City and going through Northstar.”